Originally Posted on February 15, 2018
Update: March 24, 2021
You may not be randomly putting overpriced food items and expensive cuts of meat in your cart, but it is easy to overspend without trying too hard. When thinking of starting a budget and a shopping strategy, here is a list of what NOT to do when creating a food budget:
9 Ways to Blow a Budget Without Trying!
- Shopping without a list: Most likely you will over shop and possibly forget a few things and feel compelled to go back to the grocery store.
2021 Update: I use SuperGroceryLists to create my shopping list with estimated totals. Attention Aldi shoppers, here is a tutorial on how to create a list using our Aldi Price List. In a few steps you will have a shopping list with product and pricing details and an estimated total. Never over spend again when you print your list or access it on your phone while shopping.
- Shopping with your children: Not only can they distract from your list, depending on how loud and unruly they are, you may miss mistakes at the checkout line that can cost you money. A tired parent may give into a child with an extra purchase store that can up quickly.
- Shopping without a meal plan: If you don't have a general idea of what you want to eat for the week, you may put more in the cart than you need for that week.
- Not checking the unit prices: If you are buying items that come different sizes and not check the unit prices you may spend more than necessary. However, the cheapest unit price may not be the best deal for you if some of the food spoils and/or your budget doesn't allow for the extra expense of a bulk purchase that week or month.
- Shopping when items are not on sale: Your budget can expand when you purchase items that are frequently on sale but not on the day you are shopping. Learn the store's sales cycles and purchase those items then. An average sales cycle is approximately 6 weeks.
- Going to the store multiple times a week: Chances are if you go shopping multiple times a week, you may be buiying more that you really need. When there is a birthday, I will go to the store to pick up the cake, ice cream, and any ingredients for the birthday dinner that would spoil if purchased on a regular shopping day.
- Buying prepared food items: Stores charge a premium for pre-cut fruits and vegetables.
- Buying in bulk when you don't need to: While you may save money on the unit price in the long run, if you can't go through a large tub of mayonnaise or salsa before it spoils than you are not saving money.
- Not organizing your coupons: I am guilty of leaving the store without using all my coupons. I've done that once and noticed the coupon was behind a group that I wasn't using on that trip. I thought of returning to the store to claim the coupon because it was $1.50 off. Thankfully, the expiration date was weeks away so I used the coupon on my next shopping trip.
WHERE TO START...
Gather Receipts: Gather as many receipts as you can find, going back 3-6 months. You will get a better average if you have several months of receipts to look at. One month may be higher for different reasons. Those months that have birthdays or holidays may have higher totals than those that don't.
Total the Receipts based on common categories: This may take some time depending on how many stores you shop at and if the receipts are categorized. In the end you may be surprised at how much you spend in the different categories.
Here are the categories I used:
- Baked Goods
- Canned Goods & Condiments
- Household & Personal Care (for me, I focused on food and food related items for our monthly budget. However, I do compare prices when needed.)
Track what you eat and drink during a day, week, or month:
- What do you eat and drink at each meal?
- Do you pack lunches for work and/or school?
- Do you like to snack between meals? (we do and that adds up)
Whether it's the yogurt container, juice, or bread, have a permanent marker ready to write the date when you opened the item on it. You can see how long it takes to go through each item to help determine how often/many you need to buy. For example, with 6 of us, if we had toast for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch each day that is 18-24 slices of bread a day consumed on average. We would go through more than a loaf of bread a day.
Keep in mind a budget and shopping strategy can take time and may change for many reasons.
After you have gathered and totaled your receipts, ask yourself:
- Are you comfortable with the totals in each category? If the answer is no, then...
- Identify what categories you can make changes in your budget.
That may mean a few things:
- Reduce the number of times you buy a certain item each week or month: I love chocolate, but slowly reduced the amount I purchase.
- Buy the item only when it is on sale.: Stock up on that item when the price is reduced, if your budget and the store's limit allows.
- Look for coupons for that item: If you don't clip coupons from the paper check out the company's website for coupons you can print out.
- Find a less expensive alternative: I found that many store brand items are cheaper than many name brand products.
- Eliminate item from your list if it is not a necessity: Find one or two items that you can live without, multiply that by 12 to find your annual savings.
The following post shows how much money I saved by changing how I shopped and what I bought.